NDAA 2013 Allows Indefinite Detention Of U.S. Citizens By President


We have all heard the endless list of promises politicians make when campaigning. However, many of these promises go unkept. This appears to be no different for President Barack Obama. While campaigning in 2008, Obama had vehemently promised that he would close down Guantánamo Bay prison.

Now, almost officially into his second term as president, he still has not fulfilled this promise, and with the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act on January 3, it looks like the promise to close Guantánamo Bay prison is just another failed promise. It appears to be “déjà vu all over again” as this time last year the president signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, and despite the threat of a veto Obama once again signed the NDAA. So, as we get over the shock of a politician failing to keep a promise, it is crucial to ask why did Obama sign the NDAA?

The president expressed in his signing statement that he agreed to sign the NDAA because “it authorizes essential support for service members and their families, renews vital national security programs, and helps ensure that the United States will continue to have the strongest military in the world.” He also went on to express that “the need to renew critical defense authorities and funding was too great” and therefore he could not overlook the bill.

It is important to look at what exactly the defense bill does, and how it affects Americans. Let us first define the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA is a federal law which is passed every year; it designates the budget and expenses of the U.S. Department of Defense. First off, the National Defense Act of 2013 approves a $633 billion budget for military forces. This is however, the least controversial component of the bill. The NDAA of 2013 has added an array of new and controversial provisions. Of the most controversial provisions, one provision sets forth proscriptions on closing Guantánamo Bay. The bill in particular expands and enforces limits on individuals who can be transferred out of Guantánamo Bay.

But by far the most controversial provision allows for the indefinite imprisonment of U.S. citizens, or as Obama calls it “prolonged detention.” Prolonged detention allows for the detention of an individual without a charge or trial.

This notion of detaining U.S. citizens has people screaming on both sides of the aisle, such as Senator Dianne Feinstein (D - Calif.) and Senator Rand Paul (R - Ky.). Some argue that the bill does not allow the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens because one part of the bill states that it will not change the law in regards to the detention of U.S. citizens. However, with further examination, it becomes clear that another part of the bill actually states that it will change the law. From this, another argument arises which is that the provisions are too vague. With all this in mind, it should be noted that it is left up to the executive branch to decide whether or not it will adopt these powers. The president has made it clear that his administration will not be detaining U.S. citizens.

But nonetheless, this provision in particular has civil liberties activists barking mad. Civil liberties groups believe that this bill further strengthens the power of the federal government and continues to infringe upon our constitutional rights as citizens of the United States of America. Civil liberties groups point out that this is not the only time Obama has signed a bill that he threatened to veto. Executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Shahid Buttar, made a public statement in regards to the president signing the NDAA. Very poignantly, Buttar noted, “Once again, Obama has failed to lead on Guantánamo and surrendered closure issues to his political opponents in Congress.  In one fell swoop, he has belied his recent lip-service about a continued commitment to closing Guantánamo.”

This argument is shared by many Americans who are disappointed that Obama has signed the NDAA, and argue that he has failed to keep his promise and has failed to take appropriate action when it comes to Guantánamo. But overall, this is a clear example of “politics as usual” and the failure of politicians to act on their promises.